Wednesday, the nation’s No.11 ranked team sent their seniors out in style, clinched one of the four all important double bye slots in the upcoming Big East tournament and avenged an earlier season loss with an 87-60 victory over Providence at the Yum Center.
Louisville (23-7, 12-5) fell to Providence (14-16, 3-14) 72-67 on Jan.22. Louisville has now won four in a row and five out of their last six games. Providence has dropped seven straight.
Louisville also finished their home Big East schedule with a perfect 9-0 record. The nine conference home wins are a school record. The Cardinals have also won 10 consecutive games on ‘Senior Day.’
The game was in little doubt after Louisville trailed 16-9 early on, then picking up the pace to lead 45-35 at halftime. The lead grew to as much as 30 points in the second half.
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For seniors Preston Knowles and George Goode it was their last game in the Yum Center. Knowles responded with his first career double-double as he had 20 points and 10 rebounds. He also had an ESPN highlight worthy play right before the halftime buzzer as he grabbed a rebound, then threw the ball back over his head and in.
Goode, a fan favorite drew a start and finished with four points and two rebounds.
“This feels great following last year,” said Knowles. “Coach Pitino has been through a lot- I think that it eases his mind when we’re playing well. On this team it doesn’t matter who is playing great. Everyone is happy.”
“Great way for Preston Knowles to go out,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “I’m really proud of our guys. We started slow but we ended great. A lot of spectacular plays, a lot of unselfish plays with 21 assists. Sometimes you miss coaching players like this and they kind of restore your faith in everything you believe in as a coach.
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“It’s really been fun to coach him (Knowles) because when he steps between the lines every single day, he gives it, but more importantly for the right reasons. He gives it for Louisville”
At the start of the Big East portion of the schedule, Pitino broke the schedule down into three game segments hoping at best that the Cardinals could go 2-1 in each segment. They did, with a chance to sweep this last segment with a win at West Virginia in their regular season finale this Saturday.
“I didn’t care if we got the double bye,” he said. “The six segments meant a lot to me. We never lost two in a row in a very difficult conference.”
And if you believe Knowles behind the head follow shot was impressive, Pitino was also impressed when Peyton Siva dove to the floor to come up with a loose ball, then find Kyle Kuric for a layup.
“I’ve seen guys make a lot of hustle and great plays this year, but that play by Peyton Siva was as good of a play I’ve seen as a coach,” Pitino said. “Dive head first, come up with the ball and make a perfect pass.”
In addition to Knowles double-double, Kuric led the Cardinals with 25 points, just missing a double-double with nine rebounds.. Chris Smith added 12 points.
Vincent Council led the Friars with 20 points. Marshon Brooks finished with 12, 13 points below his average as he made only 3-of-13 shots. Brooks scored 27 in the Friars earlier game with the Cardinals and had been one of the hottest players in the country as of late as he lit up Notre Dame for 52 and Georgetown for 43 points in recent games.
“We decided we weren’t going to let him breathe,” Pitino said.
“Their ability to shoot from the perimeter is what makes Louisville tough,” said Providence coach Keno Davis. “They cam also rebound the basketball and they’re the best transition team in the Big East.
“We hit a wall tonight, but give them the credit. They had a good game plan and were able to execute it.”
“I’m not thinking of a double bye,” Kuric said. “We’ve got to get ready for West Virginia.”